Sovrn Ad Network Review vs Google Adsense

I’ve been using Google Adsense since the early days. Back then (when Google was the “do no evil” company), I would get a christmas gift in the mail from Google.

All I can remember is a usb hub in Google colors. Then the gifts turned into a christmas card… then nothing. But at least you could talk to someone at Google back then.

Not anymore. My last encounter with Google support: I was unable to login to my Adsense account for an incredible 6 days. Every avenue of support resulted in nothing (and you CANNOT find anyone to phone).

Sovrn Ad Network

I get an email once a week from an ad network promising the earth. At first I would try them out, and discover that their promised CPMs were grossly overhyped. So back to Adsense I would go.

Sovrn (formerly Lijit Networks) is way up on Pixalate’s Global Seller Trust Index. Okay I’m not exactly sure what that means but it sounds good. So I thought I’d try them out.

Number 2 position.

Number 2 position

1. Initial Contact
I actually spoke to someone. We talked about the sort of CPMs I was getting through Google Ad Exchange. Rather than give some outrageous sales tactic they suggested they could probably match these, but work to do better.

2. My Questions
The Sovrn contact was happy to dialogue on all the questions I had, so I agreed to go on. My website went through some sort of approval process, and away we went.

Sovrn Pros and Cons

My site currently uses Google Ad Exchange served by DFP. It’s a nightmare to manage.

I find AdX bewildering, and DFP has progressed to the point where you need a PhD just to operate the admin.

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Pros

  • Someone to talk to
    The contact at Sovrn was only too happy to email or chat at anytime, and help me through the painful process of setting up ad tags in DFP. Compare this to the zero support coming from Google Adsense/AdX.
  • Backend / Admin
    Sovrn call their platform Meridian. It’s easy to use and you can quickly assess your ad performance without any fuss. They breakout CPMs between US and international traffic. Again compare with Ad Exchange which is so complex (and slow) to use.
sovrn-meridian

Sovrn Dashboard

Cons

  • No Ad filtering
    There doesn’t seem to be any. One great feature of AdX/Adsense is the fine grained control you have of what ads are being served. Sovrn doesn’t have this feature. You have to contact your rep if you see an ad you don’t like.
  • Speed?
    This is a tricky one and I have no metrics here. In recent years ad networks have been one of the primary reasons for slow sites. The amount of network requests the ad calls make is appalling – but unless you’re serving your own in-house ads – there seems to be no alternative.  Anecdotally the Sovrn network ‘feels’ slower in serving ads.

 

Show Me The Money

So… are the payouts higher?

This is always tough to answer. So far, CPMs per ad slot seem to be either on a par (with AdX) or lower. This is difficult to compare because of fill rate.

Fill Rates

Adsense and Ad Exchange typically have a really high fill rate. They almost always serve an ad. Other ad networks – like Sovrn – have a much lower fill rate. In fact mine hovers between 50-70%. I suspect this has a lot to do with US vs International traffic. If my site had 100% US visitors the fill rate would be higher.

What happens to the non-filled traffic? By default you will get a blank ad slot. I have added Google Adsense tags as backup, so if Sovrn can’t fill the ad request, adsense will serve.

That’s why it’s hard to compare CPMs.

Floor Price

Fill rates can be manipulated by adjust floor prices.

A lower floor price leads to a higher fill rate, but lower CPMs. A higher floor means a lower fill rate.

For example, if you set your floor to 0.50 (50 cents per 1000 ad impressions), Sovrn will try to serve ads that will pay above this. This seems like a dark art to me – and confusing. But maybe it’s a great way to filter out crappier ads. What I’m appreciating is the Sovrn rep is tweaking floor rates to get the best return.

The Final Conclusion

I will let it play out. I would be happy to have slightly lower payouts in exchange for support, and ease of use.

Sovrn also have an ad unit called an “OnScroll” – something that will refresh the ad if it remains in the viewport for a period of time. It will only load the ad when it scrolls into view (therefore lower impressions but high viewability).

I will try this out, but it really only suits desktop views, and maybe pages that are smaller and remain in view.

Hi, I'm James, and for the last decade I've made a living by making my own blogs and websites.
Updated: November 3, 2016

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